The bereft family of a Welsh politician who hanged himself after being sacked by Carwyn Jones today took aim at the ex-First Minister calling him ‘remorseless’ and accusing him of prolonging their grief.
Carl Sargeant was found dead at home in Connah’s Quay, Flintshire, by his wife Bernadette in November 2017 having left his family a note saying: ‘I’ve let you all down badly’.
Today coroner John Gittins recorded a verdict of suicide but also named Mr Jones saying he fired him despite probably knowing ‘of Mr Sargeant’s vulnerability in relation to his mental health’.
The Labour AM was dismissed as communities and children minister after allegations about his behaviour towards two women and took his own life on Nivember 7 2017 after losing his job as cabinet secretary for communities and children in Wales.
Carl Sargeant’s wife Bernie and children Lucy and Jack said today it had been 611 days since he had died, and they were relieved the inquest process was now over.
‘The discrepancies in the former First Minister’s evidence are deeply troubling and there remain significant question marks over the integrity of his evidence. After eight months’ pause for thought, we would have expected him to have a clear and unambiguous explanation’, the said in a statement.
The family added: ‘We very much hope that the former First Minister will now come forward with a genuine apology.’
Labour AM Carl Sargeant, 49, was found dead at home in Connah’s Quay, Flintshire, by his wife Bernadette in November 2017. Today his family pointed the finger at former First Minister Carwyn Jones who they claim was part of a conspiracy to turn the inquest into a criminal trial
Carl Sargeant’s Jack and widow Bernadette arrive for his inquest in Ruthin yesterday
‘It felt more like a criminal trial’: Grief of Carl Sargeant’s family as inquest ends
Bernie, Lucy and Jack Sargeant issued the following statement as Carl Sargeant’s inquest ended.
They said: ‘It’s been 611 days since Dad died.
‘We are relieved the inquest process is over. However, this inquest should have been concluded last November had the then First Minister given a reliable account of events. Eight months later we have had to sit through a very different and continually changing version of events delivered in a defensive, evasive and argumentative manner.
‘The discrepancies in the former First Minister’s evidence are deeply troubling and there remain significant question marks over the integrity of his evidence. After eight months’ pause for thought, we would have expected him to have a clear and unambiguous explanation.
‘We also deeply offended by the lack of any remorse or regret from the former First Minister are astounded to hear him say in evidence that one text sent by a special adviser was sufficient for someone he claimed to be a friend, adding that he didn’t even have to do that.
‘As Dad’s brother Andy Sargeant said, the former First Minister has been engaged in a damage limitation exercise ever since Ann Jones courageously came forward to give her evidence.
‘As a family during these proceedings we have been subjected to underhand tactics, delays and opportunism engineered by the former First Minster. We recognise the ‘murkiness’ the coroner referred to his summing up. It’s been a thoroughly distressing and dehumanising process that has added to our heart break.
‘For an inquest that has focused on mental health, very little thought has been given to our own mental health.
‘At times it seems to have been forgotten that this was an inquest into the death of a dearly beloved husband, father, son and brother. Instead it has felt more like a criminal trial. All too often politics have been at play with the sole aim of blackening a dead man’s name to protect another. Where has been the humanity in that?
‘There is no stigma to suicide and if Dad’s case highlights anything, it is that you can never truly know what is going on in someone’s mind. Having access to the right support is essential. We would encourage anyone worried about someone to reach out. We thought we had done everything we could as a family. It’s heart breaking to know that we couldn’t save him.
‘We sincerely hope that no political family will go through what we have been through these past 19 months. As we have heard on the witness stand, ministers are not employees and therefore, were not afforded any employment rights and had limited access to support. While they might not be employees, they are human beings, with their own fears and frailties.
‘It was reassuring to hear from the Labour Party about some of the changes made around safeguarding and for the steps taken at the Assembly since Dad’s death. It is also notable that upon taking post, the new First Minister Mark Drakeford immediately set to learn lessons by putting in place his own guidelines around the impact of reshuffles on ministers’ mental health for which we are grateful.
‘However, as the coroner has recognised this does not go far enough and we fully endorse the coroner’s report to prevent future deaths. It’s too late for Dad but may save someone else.
‘We hope that political parties and governments across the Union take note and make it policy for safeguarding measures to be in place for all public servants.
‘We are very grateful to the coroner and his team for the careful consideration they have again showed us. We also want to thank our legal team, Neil Hudgell, Vicky Richardson and Leslie Thomas QC and all those people across the country for the love and kindness they have continued to show us at what has been, and continues to be, the worst of times.
‘We will now take a period of reflection to take stock and review our options. In the meantime, we very much hope that the former First Minister will now come forward with a genuine apology.’
‘At times it seems to have been forgotten that this was an inquest into the death of a dearly beloved husband, father, son and brother. Instead it has felt more like a criminal trial.
‘All too often politics have been at play with the sole aim of blackening a dead man’s name to protect another. Where has been the humanity in that?’
Earlier at Ruthin County Hall, coroner Mr Gittins said at the conclusion of the inquest into the politician’s death: ‘I am concerned not enough is being done by Welsh Government to ensure in the future there are clear channels of help and support for those who lose positions in government’.
He added: ‘No official arrangements were put into place by way of seeking to provide support to Carl Sargeant following the re-shuffle despite the probability that the First Minister knew of Mr Sargeant’s vulnerability in relation to his mental health’.
But he added: ‘Anyone hoping for a glowing vindication of Carl Sargeant or a damning vilification of Carwyn Jones, or indeed vice versa, will be sorely disappointed.’
Mr Gittins recorded a verdict of suicide.
The Alyn and Deeside AM’s death came four days after he was sacked from his job as cabinet secretary for communities and children in Wales after claims he had groped and touched women. He denied the claims.
Last week his wife Bernadette said her husband was ‘shell-shocked’ by the claims and agreed he was ‘destroyed’ after losing his post.
But she insisted she believed him ‘100 per cent’ when he denied allegations he had groped and touched women.
She also told how her husband called her on November 3 saying he had been removed from government and suspended from the Labour Party.
She said: ‘I think Carl’s words at first were ‘I’ve been binned’. I said ‘Well, that’s OK, love, it’s fine’. He said something about allegations and I said ‘What do you mean?’ He said ‘I don’t know, I have got no idea’.’
She said that, after he was sacked, he told her he had only been given a broad description of the allegations and First Minister Carwyn Jones had said he could not give him any more information and the matter had been passed to the Labour Party.
She said: ‘He was shocked, you could feel this has come as a total shock to him.’
Mrs Sargeant said her husband was ‘desperate for information’ and told her he was going to seek legal advice.
She added: ‘He’s been sacked, then there had been that (the allegations) as well, but no support was offered to him, so it was like ‘What do I do?”
Mrs Sargeant said the allegations were particularly difficult for her husband because of his work campaigning against domestic abuse of women.
She said: ‘I think you could say many other things, but because it was involving people who he really wanted to help he was shell-shocked.’
She said she had received an anonymous letter in 2014 which made allegations about her husband’s behaviour around women. ‘We talked about, I didn’t believe it, and that was it,’ she said.
She told the coroner’s court that her husband had been prescribed anti-depressants in 2012 and 2014 following a traumatic life event but had been ‘in a better place’ until the week before his death, when things deteriorated.
Cathryn McGahey QC, representing Mr Jones, asked Mrs Sargeant if she thought her husband may have been shocked because some ‘discreditable behaviour’ of his had been found out.
Mrs Sargeant said: ‘No. Carl and I would have been married 27 years, we had been married 25 years then. I asked him directly and I 100 per cent believe what he told me.’
The court heard Mrs Sargeant found her husband on the floor in the washroom adjacent to the kitchen on the morning of November 7.
In a note placed on the door, Mr Sargeant said: ‘I’ve let you all down badly, you deserve none of this adverse publicity because of my acts.’
Mrs Sargeant said she believed that to refer to him taking his own life.
She said he told her on November 3 he had only been given a broad description of the allegations, and then first minister Mr Jones had said he could not give him any more information and the matter had been passed to the Labour Party.
‘He had no information and nothing other than just that broad spectrum of what they had said,’ she told the court. ‘He was desperate for information.’
Mr Sargeant’s family at the inquest yesterday, which resumed after being adjourned last year
Mrs Sargeant, who had children Jack and Lucy with her husband, said the allegations were particularly difficult because of his work campaigning against domestic abuse of women.
She told the court she and the family had travelled down to Cardiff to see Mr Sargeant on November 3 and he appeared ‘ashen’ and ‘deflated’.
She said: ‘It was the worst time ever of my family’s life and it still doesn’t feel real.’
Mrs Sargeant said she believed more support should have been put in place for her husband.
She said: ‘I never want this to happen to anybody else. My children have lost their dad, it’s 609 days today. Lessons have got to be learned.’
The court heard that Mrs Sargeant had met her husband in Connah’s Quay when she was about 17.
Coroner for North Wales (East and Central) John Gittins asked if it was love at first sight and she replied: ‘Something like that.’
He became involved in politics when he joined the town council, before becoming an Assembly Member in 2003, she said.
Carwyn Jones was accused of lying in court over what support was given to Mr Sargeant.
The inquest which was adjourned in November, heard from Mr Jones for a second time yesterday about the help offered to the late politician.
The court also heard from Vale of Clwyd AM Ann Jones, who contradicted Mr Jones’s evidence that she had a role in providing care for Mr Sargeant after he lost his post.
The court heard that since his first evidence, Mr Jones had given a further statement in which he said, on reflection, he was not correct to tell the inquest he had spoken to Mrs Jones over the weekend between Mr Sargeant losing his role and his death.
He said: ‘That’s what I thought at the time, but after further thought and having looked at the transcript, I sought to clarify that.’
Leslie Thomas QC, representing Mrs Sargeant and her son Jack, suggested Mr Jones was ‘caught in a lie’. Mr Jones said: ‘Are you calling me a liar?’
Mr Thomas replied: ‘Yes I am. The untruth only came to light when the witness came forward and you were caught out in a lie.’ Mr Jones said: ‘Not at all.’
Senior coroner for North Wales (East and Central) John Gittins said: ‘Either you were mistaken in what you said to me or I was misled, and perhaps deliberately so, with a view to some type of PR that made your position somewhat more tenable.’